PIPELINE PROTESTS ROCK PERUVIAN AMAZON
"Emergency Zone" Declared Around Camisea Project as Campesinos Block
Roads; "Uncontacted" Indians Threatened by Unrest and Development
by Bill Weinberg
Earlier this month, as Bolivia was immobilized by national protests over a
controversial gas pipeline project, just across the border in the Peruvian
Amazon a similar project sparked days of road blockades by local
campesinos, climaxing in a clash with National Police troops that left
several injured. Citing threats of Sendero Luminoso "narco-terrorism," the
government of President Alejandro Toledo has declared an "emergency zone"
in the jungle province of La Convencion, where the project lies,
suspending constitutional guarantees. Further protests are threatened by
Toledo's US-backed plan to eradicate coca crops in the region--again
citing "terrorist" exploitation of the drug trade. Meanwhile, deeper in
the forest, communities of uncontacted Indians may find their isolation
shattered by the gas project and attendant militarization--drawing further
protests from Peru's indigenous movement.
Overshadowed by the chaos in neighboring Bolivia, the rainforests of
southern Peru have also become a zone of contest between
government-corporate designs and popular campesino and indigenous
Tear Gas in the Rainforest
The $1.6 billion Camisea natural gas project, led by Argentine firm
PlusPetrol and the Texas-based Hunt Oil, is an internationally-backed plan
to revitalize Peru's hydrocarbon industry, which languished in the 1990s
as Sendero Luminoso guerilla activity made the oil-rich rainforest unsafe
for corporate developers. The gasfields on the Rio Camisea--a remote
tributary of the Rio Urubamba, one of the Peruvian jungle's major
arteries--were first explored, and then abandoned, in the 1980s and '90s.
The government of President Alejandro Toledo is now aggressively pushing
exploitation of the fields as the key to Peru's economic future. A new
trans-Andean pipeline, linking Camisea to the Pacific coast, is now nearly
complete, and exports from the gasfields are slated to start next year.
Also near completion is a processing pant at Las Malvinas, a small jungle
settlement near where the Rio Camisea meets the Urubamba, and where the
pipeline begins. At Las Malvinas, the gas is to be separated into liquid
and natural (gaseous) forms, to be pumped over the Andes separately
through the dual pipeline.
Three interlocking consortiums are building the project--Transportadora de
Gas del Peru (TGP) is building the pipeline, led by the Argentine firm
TecGas; Project UPSTREAM, led by PlusPetrol and Hunt, is developing the
fields at Camisea; while Project DOWNSTREAM, which has contracted the
Halliburton subsidiary KBR as a consultant, is responsible for
distribution of the gas where the pipeline meets the coast at two
locations--one near Lima, and one just seven kilometers north of the
Paracas marine nature reserve, a major tourist attraction, adding to the
controversy. While some of the gas is slated for internal consumption in
Peru, more is to be exported by tanker to energy-hungry California. Other
members of the interlocking consortiums include the Korean SK Corporation,
Algeria's Sonatrach and Peru's Hidrocaburos Andino.
In September, the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) approved a $135
million loan to TGP for the pipeline. But in August, the US Export-Import
Bank turned down a pending $213 million loan guarantee for the Camisea
project, citing concerns about environmental impacts and the rights of
indigenous peoples in the zone.
Just weeks after the IDB approved financing for the project, the
rainforest region around the Camisea fields exploded into angry protest.
The Camisea fields lie in the remote heart of La Convencion, the jungle
province of Cuzco department. The pipeline terminal at Las Malvinas is
connected to the outside world via a poorly-maintained and largely unpaved
road that twists down the snow-capped Andean peaks into the low tropical
rainforest from the highland city of Cuzco, the department capital. The
deeper into the jungle it goes, the more primitive the road becomes. Last
year, when the TGP-contracted Argentine engineering firm Techint started
to carry heavy machinery and tubes for the pipeline along this road,
jungle campesino communities started complaining that the road was being
damaged, and bridges weakened. Their crops of coffee, cacao and legal coca
leaf were being cloaked in dust thrown into the air by the Techint
convoys. And some communities complained that their water sources in the
form of streams coming down from mountains cut off by the 25-meter-wide
On Sept. 23, coca growers started blocking the road in Quebrada, a village
in the province of Calca, bordering La Convencion on the south, in the
"high selva" of the Andean foothills. The blockades came down two days
later, when the TGP consortium agreed to give 4 thousand bags of cement to
the community to repair the road.
But the very day after the crisis at Quebrada was resolved, campesinos at
Quellouno--deeper in the rainforest, in La Convencion provicne and much
coser to the the gasfields--pulled a tractor across the road and set up
their own round-the-clock blockade. Three days later, Sept. 29, the nearby
vilages of Kiteni and Kepashiato joined the revolt, throwing blockades
across the road closer still to Las Malvinas and Camisea. The mayors and
official authorities of the villages all supported the actions, and all
told some 10,000 people participated in the blockades. Construction
operations were immobilized, and dozens of Techint trucks were halted
mid-route in the jungle.
On Oct. 6, the government acted. Fifty National Police troops arrived at
Kiteni by helicopter. When the campesinos refused an order to clear the
road, the troops fired in the air over their heads, hurled tear gas
grenades, and charged the blockade with clubs. Twenty were wounded, and
over 20 detained, including women and children. The police also claimed
five of their officers were hurt in the confrontation. Villagers later
reported to investigators from La Convencion's pronvicial government that
one child has been missing since the attack, having fled into the jungle
The following day, talks brokered by the Peruvian government were held in
Quillabamba, La Convencion's provincial seat, in the high selva region on
the southern edge of the rainforest. TGP and the government agreed to
appoint an evaluation team to asess damage to the road and environmental
impacts. The blockades were dismantled. The team, made up of
representatives from the consortium and national, provincial and municipal
governemnts, has yet to hand in its assessment.
Fedia Castro Melgarejo is the provincial mayor of La Convencion with the
indpendent opposition party Somos Peru, and first woman to lead the
province it was created 146 years ago. She is one of the signarotires to
the Oct. 7 accord that ended the jungle uprising--at least for now.
Interviewed at her office in Quillabamba, she emphasizes: "We are not
opposed to the project. The Camisea project represents development for
us--better schools, better roads. But the consortium has to comply with
reparations for the environmental and social impacts. This is now under
Mayor Castro boasts that it is due to her efforts that 35% of the
consortium's payment to the national government goes to La Convencion. But
she stresses that if the project doesn't respect local interests, it will
lose local support. "Local people have been waiting for months for work
from the consortium, while the workers at the gasfields are mostly
Argentines," she says.
And she also protests that her province is being militarized by the
national government--"to protect the pipeline," she says.
"Emergency Zone" Around Gasfields
The turning point in the militarization of the region was the June 9
kidnapping of a crew of consortium workers at Huanta province of Ayacucho
department, which borders La Convencion on the west. The kidnapping marked
the first recent re-emergence of the Sendero Luminoso guerilla movement,
which had been in decline since the capture of its leader Abimael Guzman
Sixty-eight Techint workers and three National Police agents on assignment
to protect them were all seized from a camp near the Rio Apurimac (which
forms the border with La Convencion, and eventually joins with the
Urubamba to form the Ucayali, a major tributary of the Amazon). The Maoist
rebels demanded a $1 million ransom.
The hostages were freed just 31 hours later--after a Techint helicopter
dropped supplies (ostensibly for the hostages) at a jungle location near
where they were being held. It has since been speculated that a cash
ransom may have been hidden among the supplies.
Huanta was declared an "emergency zone" by President Toledo in the
aftermath of the kidnapping--along with La Mar province, also in Ayacucho,
and Satipo and Chanchamayo provinces in Junin department, just to the
north. Mayor Castro protests that her province, La Convencion, was also
declared an "emergency zone"--despite no documented presence of Sendero
"We are a pacific province, we have no problem with terrorism," she says.
"But because the Camisea consortium has camps here, they declared an an
emergency zone here too."
The emergency zone suspends guarantees of freedom of assembly, mandating
permission from military authorities for public gatherings. It also allows
detention without charges on suspicion of terrorism. "At any moment, we
could disappear," says Mayor Castro. "And not at the hands of the
terrorists, but by our own government."
"Coca or Death"
On Sept. 22, a day before the first roadblocks went up, Peru's "drug czar"
Nils Ericsson and the department presidents of Cuzco, Ayacucho and Junin
were in Washington DC to sign a document calling for the "gradual and
concerted reduction" of ilicit coca crops in the region as a part of the
"struggle against terrorism and narco-trafficking." Under a program dubbed
"Peace and Development Plan 2003-2006," US AID is to provide $120 million
for crop-substitution programs in the three departments, to be
administrated by Ericsson's agency, the National Commission for Life and
Development without Drugs (DEVIDA). Outlining the integrated Plan
Ayacucho, Plan Junin and Plan Cuzco, the program document explicitly cites
the "terrorist threat" to mining, tourism and other "institutional
development" in these departments.
But Mayor Castro says that the coca eradication plan is just a recipe for
further unrest in the region. She says she was also invited to Washington
for the signing ceremony and refused to attend. She shows me the finished
document, proudly pointing out that while it bears the signatures of the
department presidents, Ericsson and US AID director for Peru Patricia
Buckles, the lines are all blank over the names of the sixteen provincial
and municipal mayors who were invited--including her own. "I will not
betray the cocaleros of La Convencion," she says.
She also notes that Cuzco department president Carlos Cuaresma, who did
sign the document, is allied with President Toledo's ruling coalition.
Mayor Castro insists that there are no illicit coca crops in La
Convencion. She says that all the crops are registered by ENACO, the
National Coca Company, Peru's government monopoly which controls the
market in coca for internal traditional uses--primarilly coca mate, a
medicinal tea popular throughout the Peruvian Andes.
"Ayacucho, Junin and Huallaga produce for the narcos--but not here in La
Convencion," says Castro. "This is a bad policy imposed by the United
States. The campesinos that produce coca here are not responsible for drug
addiction in the United States."
Plan Cuzco proposes replacing coca crops with pineapple--but Castro says
the land in this high selva region doesn't produce pineapple. "The soil
will only produce tiny little pineapples. The campesinos here will never
be able to survive growing pineapples."
But she also insists that her reasons for opposing Plan Cuzco go beyond
the economic. "Coca is not a drug for us, it is food, and it is a cultural
heritage," she says. "We have to guard the coca like we guard Machu
From the veranda of the provincial government building, Mayor Castro
points to the verdant mountains that nestle Quillabamba, forming the
canyon of the Rio Urubamba that rushes towards the jungle on the east side
of town. The slopes are a patchwork of forest and the cultivated fields of
campesino families. "You see those crops?" she asks. "It's all coca. The
campesinos will never give it up."
Castro reminds me that this region was heartland of the 1960s guerilla
insurgency of Hugo Blanco--which finally prompted the government to break
up the sprawling latifundios which once dominated the region and
redistribute the land to campesino families. "We are organized here since
the guerilla movement of the 1960s. The first agrarian reform in Peru was
here, thanks to the guerillas. They were legitimate guerillas--not
terrorists like we have today."
The same local campesino federations which supported the Hugo Blanco
insurgency over a generation ago now oppose the coca eradication (and
supported the blockades of the Camisea consortium's trucks). "Here the
campesinos say they would rather die than eradicate the coca," says Mayor
Castro. "In the '60s, they said 'Tierra o muerte--venceremos!' Now they
say 'Coca o muerte--venceremos!'"
Deep in the lowland rainforest, 150 kilometers north of Quillabamba, lies
Block 88, now leased to the Camisea consortium, one or largest oil-and-gas
exploitation blocks in the country. The Rio Camisea flows through it to
the west, into the Urubamba--which is here broad and languid in contrast
to rushing stream of the high selva region. The Rio Camisea is now flanked
by four gas platforms--two to the north and two to the south.
Just ten kilometers to the east of Block 88 lies the border of Manu
National Park--Peru's largest, and a UN-recognized Biosphere Reserve since
1977. But of greater concern still to critics of the project is that some
two thirds of Block 88 overlaps with the 15,000-square kilometer
Nahua-Kugapakori Reserve--one of five in the Peruvian departments of
Cuzco, Ucayali and Madre de Dios established to protect the so-called
"no-contactados," or indigensous peoples living in "voluntary isolation"
from the outside world.
The Nahua-Kugapakori Reserve was the first such reserve in Peru,
established in 1990 following a campaign by the Interethnic Association
for the Development of the Peruvian Rainforest (AIDESEP). The adjacent
Block 57 to the north also lies partially within reserve. All five of
these reserves have been invaded by outlaw timber operations, according to
Beatriz Huertas, an anthropolgist who helped establish the presence of
"no-contactados" in the zone for AIDESEP. "It is fundamentally weak," she
says of the reserve program she helped create.
"The first principle is that we respect the right of people in isolation
to remain in isolation, and to contact the outside world when they choose
to do so," says Huertas, interviewed at AIDESEP's offices in Lima. She
cites the risk of transmission of illness to uncontacted communities which
have no immunities to Western diseases as a major threat posed by
penetration of the reserves.
There are up to 18,000 Indians living within Block 88 (of the 500,000
total in the Peruvian Amazon). Among these, Huertas believes, are
Machiguenga and Pano ("Nahua") "no-contactados"--who are probably aware of
the existence of industrial civilization, but choose to avoid contact with
Haroldo Salazar, AIDESEP vice president, is an Ashaninka from the Rio
Palcazu, an Ucayali tributary some 300 kilometers northwest of the Camisea
zone. He boasts that AIDESEP, founded in 1980, has won over 2 million
hectares of titled indigenous lands in the Peruvian Amazon. "Before that
we weren't Peruvians--we had no education, we didn't vote."
AIDESEP is made up of 53 federations of Amazon indigenous groups in 12
departments. Says Salazar: "We represent 17 of Peru's 19 linguistic
groups--minus Romance and Quechua." AIDESEP is now publishing text books
in indigenous languages. Salazar says AIDESEP's two main principles are
recuperation of lands and respect for no-contactados. "We are the ones who
have assumed the responsibility of protecting the rights of those who have
never been conquered by anyone," he says.
AIDESEP is currently seeking an injunction in the Peruvian courts to halt
the Camisea project, and preparing a complaint before the Defensoria del
Pueblo, Peru's official human rights ombudsman. It is also preparing a
complaint before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, charging that
the Camisea project violates the International Labor Organization's
Convention 169, setting minimum standards on the rights of indigenous
peoples, which was ratified by Peru in 1993.
AIDESEP charges that the project will mean "forced contact" for the
residents of the Nahua-Kugapakori Reserve, and have grave impacts
throughout the region. According to a July 2003 AIDESEP complaint filed
with the Defensoria del Pueblo, the previous August a 7-year-old
Machiguenga girl lost her life when she was swept into the Rio Urubamba by
the wake of two PlusPetrol boats carying equipment towards the gasfields.
There are also concerns about general safety in the construciton effort;
Project UPSTREAM has seen two worker fatalities, and Project DOWNSTREAM
ten since work commenced.
The pipeline also passes through several titled Machiguenga communities to
the south of Camisea on its way towards the Andes. AIDESEP claims TGP
pressured communities to sign right-of-way rights for the pipeline for 40
Walter Kategari is sub-jefe of the AIDESEP affiliate representing the
indigenous peoples of the Camisea region, the Machiguenga Council of the
Rio Urubamba (COMARU). He is from Monte Carmelo, one of the Machiguenga
communities bi-sected by the pipeline. Interviewed at the group's house in
Quillabamba, he says: "We would have no problem with the project if they
complied with environmental standrads and indigenous rights under ILO 169.
But the communities and indigenous organizations have not been consulted."
Kategari claims there are already fewer fish in the Urubamba and
tributaries due to high-temperature emmissions from the wells. He also
complains of consortium workers luring indigenous women into "clandestine
prostitution." Mayor Castro's office also confirmed the emergence of
sexually-transmitted diseases among the indigenous of the Camisea zone for
the first time since construction started.
Kategari also warns that the access road following the pipeine to Las
Malvinas--while now open only to consortium personnel--can serve as an
artery for narco-traffickers and new invasions of the indigenous
communities by illegal settlers or timber operations.
Dr. Sandra Martinez, PlusPetrol community and environemntal affairs
director, contacted at her office in Lima, denied Kategari's charges. "It
is a lie that there are any emissions from the wells. The wells aren't
even in production yet, and they are not to produce any emissions." As for
charges that the consortrium has not consulted with the communities, she
says: "This is also a lie. We began consultations with the communities
together with the government in September 2000. Since then we have
convened 222 meetings with the indigenous communities. This was necessary
for us to receive our environmental license to begin work, which we
received in December 2001."
Indigenous Movement Divided
A part of the answer for this seeming contradiction lies in the
consortium's relationship with another Peruvian indigenous alliance, the
Confederation of Amazonian Nationalities of Peru (CONAP), founded in 1987.
The consortium has held meetings with CONAP representatives in some of the
impacted communities, and an open rivarly has emerged between CONAP and
AIDESEP over the issue.
CONAP president Cesar Sarasara, an Ahuajun from the Rio Maranon in the
northern Peruvian Amazon, maintains that the Camisea project can bring
progress to the region's indigenous peoples. Interviewed at CONAP's Lima
office, he says:
"We defend the project, not the company. We support the project if it is
under compliance with world environmental norms, and if it improves the
quality of life of the indigenous peoples, and respects our culture. We
want the project to be an opportunity for the indigenous people to
Sarasara says CONAP is pioneering a new relationship between the Amazon's
indigenous peoples and policy-makers. "We have established a dialogue
between the indigenous and the state and the company, without
intermediaries. Until now, the Peruvian state has used the resources, but
the indigenous continue in poverty. This is not just. The state and the
company--neither have experience in a new relation with the indigenous.
The easier position is to just say no to the project. But the subsoil
rights do not belong to the indigenous, they belong to the state. Many
NGOs take the easy position of ęthe indigenous say no.ę But in the times
we live in, the indigenous are part of the world market. No indigena can
live today without money. The situation demands new alternatives. The
indigenous need to be
compensated for the resources taken from our communities. It is unjust
that others have better conditions of life and we don't. It is not just
that others live 90 years and we only live 40."
AIDESEP's Harolodo Salazar dismisses CONAP's claim to be a legitimate
indigenous coalition: "CONAP represents individual interests. Its base is
in a few people in each community it claims to represent. It does not
represent the base. The government uses CONAP to compete with us."
He points out that the TGP consortium gave CONAP $50,000 in 2003 for their
house in Lima, with another identical sum promised for 2004.
AIDESEP also accuses CONAP of authoritarianism. "CONAP's president has
been in power eight years, and just elected to four more," says Salazar.
"AIDESEP has a new president every four years."
Jorge Aburto, a technical secretary with the Permanent Coordinator of
Peruvian Indigenous Peoples (COPPIP)--a new federation linking highland
and rainforest indigenous groups, which includes AIDESEP--says: "AIDESEP
is answerable to the base. Not everything is perfect. Some communities are
better represented than others. But it maintains its independence from the
government and the corporations."
An Aug. 31, 2003 CONAP "Public Manifesto" on the Camisea project accuses
AIDESEP, COPPIP, COMARU and other indigenous organizations that oppose the
pipeline of an "anti-patriotic attitude."
"The Government Used Us"
Shell, Mobil and Chevron all explored in the Urubamba region in the 1980s,
but quit the zone in the early '90s--unoficially, because of the threat
from Sendero Luminoso and other guerilla groups. Chased out of the
highland regions of Ayacucho by a wave of harsh repression in the 1980s,
these guerillas fled en masse into the rainforest, where a new war
ensued--this time with the Amazonian indigenous peoples whose lands they
had invaded. The Ashaninka were the most impacted by this invasion, with
communities being massacred and enslaved by Sendero guerilla fighters.
Ashaninka leader Alejandro Calderon was assassinated in 1989 by the Tupac
Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA), a rival guerilla group, for refusing
to collaborate with them. AIDESEP's Haroldo Salazar says it was not the
army, but the Ashaninka themselves who beat back the Sendero and MRTA
invaders, organizing "rondas"--self-defense patrols--armed only with bows
and arrows. "We cleansed the valley of Pichis-Palcazu of guerillas and
narcos," he boasts.
Salazar admits the Ashaninka were eventually given some weapons by the
Peruvian army--but "only some old hunting rifles." And now, he says, the
Ashaninka and other Amazonian Indians have been betrayed. "Now the state
says the area is free of guerillas, it is open for the oil industry. The
state used us." Some of the very wells that the Camisea consortium plans
to exploit were first perforated by Shell in the 1980s, before it
abandoned the zone.
Salazar makes clear that just because the Ashaninka fought the guerilla
invaders doesn't mean they support capitalism and the state. "We are good
socialists," he says. "We are good communists. This is not an imposed
socialism, it is a living socialism."
Salazar rejects the government's official agency for indigenous affairs,
the National Commission of Andean, Amazonian and Afro-Peruvian Peoples, or
CONAPA, charging that it does not truly represent indigenous communities.
"We want constitutional changes and an indigenous-led indigenous agency,"
he says. "We will have this, if not under this government then under
Until then, Salazar pledges that AIDESEP will continue to resist the
Camisea project. "We will not sell our lands, our biodiversity, and much
less the non-contacted peoples. We want the oil companies out of the
Oct. 31, 2003